Q & A: How Project Management Coaching Makes Better Leaders
Most of us want to get better at our jobs – to do meaningful work, gain influence and achieve recognition. But what happens when you’re stuck – and all the courses, seminars and certificates still don’t get you to where you want to be?
Enter coaching – a way to dive deeper into the one subject that doesn’t appear on any syllabus: you.
Our friend Susanne Madsen is a project management and leadership development coach, with over 15 years of PM experience. We recently asked her to tell us more about her coaching – who she works with, what it’s like and how coaching really helps project managers and other professionals.
What does it mean to be a Project Management coach?
It means that I work with project managers to help them overcome the challenges they face on their projects and in their careers, and I help them become better leaders. For the individual this can translate into gaining control of a project, building better relationships with their clients, and increasing their confidence and personal impact. Ultimately they need to demonstrate their value by delivering successful projects so that they in turn can get that promotion or a pay rise which they want.
How do you describe a typical client?
My typical client is a project manager who works in a corporate environment and who has between five and 10 years of experience. They’re stressed and work long hours without getting the results they want. Also, they’re good at tracking tasks and processes but lack impact, motivational skills and leadership. Generally, my clients are not focusing enough on building relationships, mitigating risks, leading the team and understanding the client’s vision.
How do you get started with a new client?
As a starting point we look at the project manager’s challenges and through in-depth conversations we find ways of side stepping the issues they face. We then examine their goals and aspirations and focus on implementing the strategies that will yield the biggest results.
Also, I often ask people to read sections of my book The Project Management Coaching Workbook and work on certain exercises to help them improve as project managers. I usually emphasize the leadership aspect of project management, which has proved to help people get to the next level.
What are your clients’ most common challenges?
One of the biggest challenges project managers face is that they don’t have enough time to do all their tasks. As a consequence, they don’t get everything done and they slowly start to lose control of their project: work quality is poor, the team is not engaged, the project is behind schedule and the customer is unhappy.
Another big challenge is that many project managers don’t feel confident. They’re unsure how to get the project back on track and how to motivate the team.
You say you help PMs become better leaders. Is it true that leaders are naturally born or can they be made/coached?
Some people might be what we call “naturally born leaders” because they’re charismatic have a flair for inspiring and motivating others to contribute to a certain goal. Having said that, leadership can definitely be learned. One of the best ways is by working with a senior mentor who is a great leader, and who takes the time to coach and mentor others. It’s all about implementing and demonstrating leadership in practice.
It is true that leadership has often been associated with the CEO of a big company. But we need to demystify the word by reminding ourselves that leadership is not a function of what we do for a living or what our job titles are. Rather, it is a function of our personal capabilities – such as courage, taking responsibility, being proactive, inspiring and involving others. Leaders can be found in many guises and in many walks of life. Look at parents for instance, who act as role models, coaches, educators and motivators for their children. Are they not leaders? Or look at project managers who help their clients define the vision and business case of a project and who go out of their way to deliver the best possible benefits by inspiring and motivating the team to implement that vision. Are they not leaders?
Are there some basic, universal words of wisdom or tips that help people find success in using their time to get the most important work done?
Yes, definitely! To find success in what we do we must add more value than anyone else to our customers, departments, end users and team members. The way to do that is not to work longer and longer hours, but to consistently focus on the most important activities. So, concentrate on those tasks that truly add value such as planning, understanding the vision, mitigating risks, building relationships, learning about the business, tracking benefits, challenge the status quo, communicating to our clients in a way that meets their needs, etc.
The best tip is for project managers to ask themselves: What are the 20% of their activities that add 80% of their results? This 20% is what they should consistently focus on! I also encourage people to start off their day by working on and completing their most important tasks – and not wait until they have checked their emails and put out a few fires.
For project managers to become leaders they must stop working on the urgent and start focusing on that which is really important!
What is the role of technology in your work? Does it help or hinder project managers to be effective leaders?
Technology is an interesting topic because it’s part of every project manager’s job and because we’re so dependent on it. In that sense, project management tools and software is a must-have for effective project execution. Having said that, technology rarely helps managers become leaders, and can even hinder it. If we’re too focused on technology we remain managers of tasks, events and processes – instead of being leaders of people.
What is your best advice for project managers?
I encourage everyone to take some time out on a regular basis, like every two weeks, and ask themselves a set of questions (listed below). Do this somewhere you genuinely feel inspired and where you won’t get interrupted – i.e., not at their workstation. These questions help people take a big picture view of their project and apply themselves more effectively.
Examples of questions are:
- How can I better motivate and utilize the strengths of my team members?
- How can I improve my relationship with my customers?
- How can I instantly start to add more value to my client?
- Who do I need to spend more time with?
- What is my unique contribution to the project and how can I focus more on it?
- How can I spend my time more proactively?
- What would it take for me to be outstanding?
What’s the most exciting/rewarding part of your coaching job?
The best part for me is witnessing peoples’ Eureka moments and seeing the light in someone’s eyes when they have that Aha moment. There’s nothing better than helping someone overcome an issue or reframing a problem which they have been struggling with for ages. Seeing my clients prosper, become better leaders and get more joy and satisfaction in their jobs is the sole reason why I became a coach.
If you’ve had a coaching experience that’s taken your job to the next level, share your thoughts in the comment box, below.
To learn more about project management and leadership coaching, visit Susanne Madsen’s website.